These Are the Microphones That Superstars Use to Track Their Vocals

Posted by Jesse Sterling Harrison on Jun 17, 2016 09:00 AM

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Top-flight studios afford major artists with all sorts of unfair advantages: rooms full of preamps and effects, closets of great instruments and amplifiers, and performance halls scientifically tuned to promote amazing sound. Then there are the engineers and producers.

It’s great to have a DIY philosophy and create raw, intimate recordings – a practice that brings its own challenges. But it’s hard to truly emulate the sound of an expensive studio without setting up your own expensive studio. This problem is obvious when it comes to vocal mics. Here’s a look at some of the microphones used by household-name stars, and your chances of singing into one yourself.

Beyonce: vintage AKG C24

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The pop-soul diva, like many huge artists, is renowned for knowing what she wants and having a great deal of control over every step of her recording process. Also like most stars, she prefers to track vocals with large-diaphragm condenser microphone.

For her album 4, she sang into an AKG C24, a stereo condenser. With two capsules, the C24 is known as a great mic for singers who move their heads a lot, although some engineers note that it isn’t great when a singer has a huge dynamic range. This mic has its fans in the recording community, as well as its detractors.

Unfortunately, this mic has been out of production for a while, so you’d have to find a studio that had one, or pick one up used for your own. They are out there, but seem to be selling for around $10,000.


Eminem: Sony C800

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Rap king Eminem is not one for vintage mics. On some of his recent recordings, he tracked his leads using a Sony C800. This monstrous microphone is noted for extremely low noise, and is advertised as the only microphone to boast an onboard cooling system.

Like Beyonce’s classic mic, this one sells for about $10,000, but at least it’s still in production – so finding one at a very nice studio is not out of the question.


Kurt Cobain/Nirvana: Neumann U67

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Kurt Cobain might not be the most refined singer on this list, but the mic he growled into when Nevermind was recorded is as faithful and responsive as any of them. Neumann is a revered name in the world of microphones, and according to producer Butch Vig, Cobain opted for one of their vintage mics when he tracked an album destined to become an instant classic.

The Neumann U67 is an oldie, first used in the '60s, and in some quarters, this one comes off as the most difficult to obtain. It’s out of production and listing as high as $16,000 for a perfect used model. However, if you love that vocal tone, shop around…these mics can be had much more reasonably if you find one with a scuff or two.


Prince: Shure dynamic 57

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If you’ve sung at a club, chances are that you’ve sung on the mics Prince used to record Purple Rain. When tracking what would be the strongest artistic statement of his career, the late superstar and his band performed using a typical club stage setup, and the tracks were recorded in a truck parked outside. Shure dynamic 57s were used for both vocals and guitar amps, even though these mics retail for about $100 apiece. Prince could have had whatever he wanted, but what he wanted was the sound of a live show.

Famous for durability, these Shure microphones are ubiquitous onstage, but it’s far from unusual to hear engineers mention them in the studio context, saying, “Yeah, I just threw a 57 on there.” Prince’s brilliant work proves that great recordings are possible even when using normal gear.


Next up: 9 Mics Under $500 That Sound Incredibly High-End


Jesse Sterling Harrison is an author, recording artist, and part-time farmer. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three daughters, and a herd of ducks.

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